Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Hysteria

December 3, 2010

That little guy above caused the two hour rush hour traffic jam yesterday in Denver. And we all know what a toner cartridge can do to a cargo flight. And now that the TSA advises we teach children that bad touch is a game, it is pretty safe to say we’ve exceeded the limits of even what the usual hysterical American public will accept.

And that’s saying something. Because we’ve been pretty well trained to accept about anything as long as it is in the interest of “security” because if you don’t, you are not supporting the troops or are unpatriotic or something.

The real problem isn’t that we won’t accept needless death — over 13,000 people are killed in DUI crashes in each year and 30,000 more are killed by a hospital bacteria that will probably show up on TSA gloves soon. We obviously have no problem with needless and avoidable death including DUI murder. Bloody and mangled in a car is fine. Bloody and mangled in an airplane? Not fine.

What we don’t like is random death perpetrated by foreigners. And we are willing to spend untold billions of dollars and even more in wasted man-hours to fight the invisible foe. Avoidable death by Americans? I’ll toast to that!

How stupid are we? So stupid that a “terrorist” can terrorize us with a plastic, children’s toy and snarl traffic for hours. I’m not sure why Al Qaeda doesn’t just start leaving random kids toys around the country in malls. The security firm lobbyists would have have us getting strip-searched by mall cops in a week. Amazon, of course, would benefit most.

My vote is, let’s put the TSA in charge of highway safety and hospital cleanliness. Let’s spend a few more billion dollars accomplishing nothing but fear-mongering and pseudo-safety.

I can’t even blame the TSA anymore. They’ve seen that basically we will accept anything from two-weeks trained, high school graduates earning less than $40,000 per year whose only real and discernible purpose is to blindly follow the random policies implemented.

But while we’ve exceeded the limits, there is little doubt that change will not be coming. Politically, a death in an airplane is worth 5,000 on the highway. The only hope for fewer drunk driving deaths is drunk, terrorist kamikaze drivers. Then we could all look forward to background checks in bars and liquor stores.

The Little Things

October 14, 2010

Why is Apple the only company whose batteries in their products arrive already charged?

Whether it be an iPhone, a MacBook, an iPad or iPod, unboxed, unwrapped, they are already charged and ready to go.

Is this so hard for other manufacturers to understand? Is it that complicated or expensive to add charged batteries to the assembly line?

In this world on instantaneous, where everything is now, I don’t get dropping $1,000 on a laptop and making the buyer wait 3 hours or more for a full charge.

It might seem small. Oh so little. And certainly an uncharged battery is that much better than no battery at all.

The infamous, “batteries not included”  now lives on as the troglodyte moniker, a sign that old-fashioned AA or AAA or even the rare and mostly flashlight-ridden C or D cells will be required. A sure sign of low-tech, of a product not worthy of lithium-ion baked goodness. I’m not sure babies born today will even really understand these lettered cylinders, will ever know the joy and thrill of a 9-volt on their tongues.

Hell, the coolest gadgets these days — Apple — don’t allow the consumer access to the battery at all. The battery only exists as a bar graph, an, existential computation of time where marketing and engineering set out to illustrated Einstein’s twin paradox. Can a 7 hour battery only last 3 hours?

But Apple products come fully charged, ready to use. No tabs to pull, no compartments to open, no + or – signs stamped in dark, cheap plastic. No sign of batteries at all. Push the power button and it just turns on.

Nothing else I buy from anyone else comes pre-charged. And each time I need to install the battery, plug in the unwieldy power brick and wait for the full, first-time charge, I am reminded why Apple is the second largest company in the world.

Even when you get big, really big, you still need to pay attention to the little things.

 

News Flash: Music Labels Still Stupid

September 4, 2010

A Reuters article Thursday hints at Google’s new music play to launch this December. With the off-the-record music exec quotes, this ham-handed attempt to posture while negotiating with Apple actually hints upon on salient point: ubiquitous access to your content library is coming soon.

Easily the coolest feature of Apple’s music event presentation on Wednesday is Air Play which, for the first time, begins to really show off the concept of Content Anywhere. This Anywhere is Apple’s closed ecosystem where things normally just work but it includes the computer, the smart phone, the tablet and the television. By my reckoning, except for some failed whacko attempts by Microsoft, this will be the first time I will be able to access my content across my screens seamlessly. It’s pretty damn cool and knowing Apple, it will change how consumers perceive their interaction with content. Like the iPod, consumers will recognize how something is supposed to work and then demand that from all other players. A new norm for expectations will be set.

This is typical Apple evolution. First it is all my content on any screen within my network and then, when it’s ready and consumers are ready, it is all my content on all my screens anywhere I have net access: Cloud content. Google is trying to skip steps and negotiate the big play right upfront; see Google TV project and now Google Cloud music.

In a world where consumers want content anywhere and Cloud is the future, it seems the music labels are once again a few years behind the times. The licenses required for Cloud streaming means the labels get to negotiate with Apple again. Those talks are happening now hence the clumsy attempt to “leak” the Google negotiations. I’m pretty sure, Android activations aside, Apple isn’t going to cave to label demands because Google is trying to get a seat at the party. Amazon’s music initiative isn’t a failure. It’s quite decent but it doesn’t scare Apple with its low teens market share.

So here we are, 2010, and the labels have finally embraced digital. Now the chalk on the sidewalk shows Cloud content will be the next frontier and what do the Labels want? To double dip the chip. The Labels want to be paid per song downloaded and then again for cloud streaming ability. Ahh, the ever dumb greed of terminally ill companies. But the Labels do have a point. Apple has become the main arbiter of music hits. An iTunes plug on the store’s main page is worth tons of downloads and an Apple commercial  on TV with your music is practically guaranteed Platinum. The Labels depend on Apple for their digital growth and loath Apple for stealing their power. Not that it was a big heist. No need to re-hash how the Labels’ stupidity and greed decimated their revenue and their control positions at the same time.

But now, with the upcoming and dramatic shift to cloud, the Labels have another chance to right their wrongs, to see the future and anticipate it rather than react to it. Instead of trying to milk it for any near-term money they can squeeze from the turnip, they can create a powerful, new model but only if they are willing to leave their new-found digital download revenues behind. It took them a full decade to accept the new revenue stream and they won’t abandon it so lightly. But now is the time for courage not more of the same. Cloud, like all technology shifts, is an opportunity.

Step One: Allow Cloud access to be ubiquitous. A simple log-in open API should let everyone and anyone’s program to allow me access to my cloud. A small per-user fee can be charged to the application for the access. Not more than $0.10/user. If they try and lock it behind a whole host of crappy DRM, it will just fail.

Step Two: Create two classes of Cloud access: Basic and Premium. Basic would use a customized P2P network but rather than uploading and downloading files, the P2P network recognizes the songs in the library and uses collective streaming capability. Bandwidth and quality of service would be limited for the Basic service. Premium can add a nominal monthly fee and unlimited cloud storage. Digital download revenue is somewhat preserved for the near term as the transition begins but core focus is Cloud access and creating the Cloud revenue stream

Step Three: Have an open and completely transparent measurement system to allocate usage revenue among rights holders. Administration should be no more than 10% of total revenue. Ever. Payments should be made monthly and annual, third-party audits must be conducted. If Artists don’t trust the system it won’t work. If consumers don’t get immense benefit, it will also fail.

ASCAP is probably in the best position to tackle the tangle of rights, stakeholders, and egos involved. Unfortunately, ASCAP is a backward association more interested in focusing on trying to use Federal muscle to staunch the “devaluation of its members’ rights in the Internet environment,” than actually leading the industry to the future. But they do have an iOS app that allows members to check their ever diminishing royalties with their iPhone. How exciting.

At the end of the day, Google won’t get anything near what it will need to really create a compelling Cloud music service. The Labels will try and use Google as leverage against Apple who will also be hamstrung by the Labels. But Apple with its  Air Play, when it launches complete with its own ecosystem of licensed products, will once again raise the bar to where consumers will demand more access, more Cloud, more content on more screens. Hollywood, it seems, is eventually going to give Apple the perfect platform to demo how cool Content Anywhere can be. While I’ll be throwing that movie from my TV onto my iPad to finish watching on my cab ride on 3G, I still won’t have true, full access to my music outside my network. Consumers will easily see the gaping hole of music streaming and the intrepid will, as they always do, find ways around the lack of functionality. To the labels detriment.

The labels will still be fighting to preserve last decade’s download-per-song digital revenue stream as the Cloud floats on by.

Or they can really give Google a real Cloud offering that will allow consumers easy access anywhere and everywhere. What are the odds?

Next Arms Race: Cutting Classes

May 5, 2010

It was just a matter of time. Northern Arizona University is installing some RFID readers in large classrooms. The readers will track attendance from the student ID cards in the room. Presumably, the student ID cards will be on each student rather than a whole stack of them in someone’s pocket.Yeah, right.

Predictably, the students are rebelling.

It’s a brand new world out there.

Learn from El-Al: Hire Isaac Yeffet

December 29, 2009

So glad I’m not flying anywhere right now. The situation is ridiculous. We constantly “defend” against the last attack. Remove our shoes, now get patted down, heaven help us if some terrorist decides to hide a bomb up his ass. We’ll all end up with a $9/hour TSA agent’s gloved hand giving us the full bent-over probe.

How many millions of wasted hours have our security protocols created? Without creating actual security.

And I might be one of the big fans of technology, but new scanners and more tech isn’t the answer. We, as Americans, tend to look to tech as the ultimate solution whether it is the best or not.

I may hate the “security theater” we seem to practice but my opinion on what to do is meaningless. So listen to the guy who does know: Isaac Yeffet, the former head of El Al airlines

Go here to see the Fox News interview.

Can we please hire this guy to head up TSA? Pretty please.

Unless there is some solid research that shows there is a greater chance a terrorist will blow up my plane using an iPod 47 minutes before landing versus 68 minutes before landing, for the love of pete, will someone please bring some sanity back to our air travel security?

Really. Another moronic congress-person on TV baying about this will make me puke. Instead of creating the full-police state system with high-school drop-outs watching the scanners, we can actually create real security. I’m fed up with the facade of safety we perpetuate while inconveniencing everyone.

Hire Isaac Yeffet and let’s get real about security.

The New Digital Battleground: Television

December 28, 2009

Fox’s contract with Time Warner Cable expires at the end of this year. To make up for declining advertising revenue, Fox is demanding $1 per subscriber per month. That’s double what TWC pays CBS. Stand-off with Fox stations being pulled from TWC if no agreement is reached. Between Hulu, iTunes, Amazon Unbox, YouTube, etc, it’s obvious television is changing. In some ways this is similar to what happened to the music majors.

Like the music biz, the content owners are looking at declining revenues and demanding to make it up someplace else. Music streaming is an unsustainable business plan because the fees are so high. Similarly,TV advertising is down so content woners like Fox want to jack up the cable fees. It may work for awhile but these costs get passed down to the consumer and cable starts to look less and less attractive. You end up pushing your customers to the alternative.

Which isn’t all bad. If you have a business model for the alternative. I figured out over two years ago that ditching cable would save me a boatload of money every year. But I couldn’t part with news and sports. Now, two years later, I can get the HD versions of everything and I’m pretty sure I could figure out how to stream sports and news if I really wanted to.

Cable to me — and many people — is becoming a huge TCP/IP pipe. A slow one when compared to the rest of the world. As the broadcasters and cable channels jack up rates, the value of content on cable actually declines. Just give me a pipe — preferably a fast, Fios pipe — and I’ll get what I want. The MSOs are losing control of distribution. And when that happens, as the music biz shows, you’re in trouble. Sure, I’ll still need internet access, but I’ll handle the rest on my own.

The cable companies have hedged this issue by integrating back and buying content owners. But the content owners are in for a little turbulence themselves.

TV content isn’t like the music biz. For one, people consume mostly fresh content. The music industry relied on catalog sales too much. The old lions of the industry — Pink Floyd, The Who, the Beatles — drove a huge chunk of sales. Sure, there are a few DVD sets of I Love Lucy and MASH that get sold but most TV content consumed is fresh. Throw in live content, like sports, news, and talk shows, and television has more valuable content than the music industry could ever dream about.

So there’s value there. People will pay. Without cable, I would certainly subscribe to download (Amazon or iTunes) to a bunch of shows. And the economics are better. My purchase of a season of Mad Men is a multiple higher of what they would have made on me from the CPM on the advertising. That’s not the problem. Selling me a show I want to watch is easy. I’m already sold. I’ll take Mets and Jets streaming too. Done. But how did they get me to watch Mad Men? How did they launch the show, build word of mouth, build good buzz, reviews, ratings?

There’s a decades old system for creating hits. Same as the music biz. Control distribution, use lead-ins, market, use the right time-slots, stuff the unsold advertising with promos and use on-air bugs to plug upcoming shows, etc. What if there are no time-slots? No lead-ins? No annoying video bugs in the lower, right corner? Media doesn’t adapt to change easily. In an all download/streaming world, it’s pretty easy to see how the low-rated first two seasons of Seinfeld would never have lived long enough to make it to the cultural phenomenon it eventually became.

Right now, there’s football and American Idol at stake. For TWC, there’s big talk about setting price precedents and burdening consumers with ever-higher cable bills. For Fox, the PR babble is about how much their content is worth. And both sides are right. Viewers want their Idol and football but cable bills are rising much faster than inflation (thanks ESPN!). An impasse that will most get worked out one way or another, even if it means the unlikely case of Fox going dark for a few days. Point proved, deal made, everyone moves on.

But there are seismic shifts happening. Content a la carte is the fact. Whether Congress forces MSOs to unbundle cable and let me pick and choose my desired stations or I bypass the cable company and go straight to iTunes, hulu, youtube, or torrents; the bottom line is: distribution control is over. I’m in charge. Soon, content owners will find out exactly how valuable their content is to consumers. Some may be pleasantly surprised. Others will be devastated. But it will also occur just as they face the new reality that the music biz has faced for years — it’s really, really hard to break new hits without distribution control.

We can’t live without our television. We want it fresh, HD, and now. That’s the major plus. The content owners — with some muss and fuss — should be able to figure it out. I doubt ESPN remains the massive cash growth cow Disney has milked from it even with the smart move of Monday Night Football.

The MSOs have a lot more to lose. They’re going to be a dumb pipe. Throw in net neutrality and they become the water utility. I pay for it, it delivers me all I want, but I could care less about them — until the water stops flowing. Uptime becomes their metric, not content.

A la carte is here. Maybe it arrives slower than we expect. Maybe not. And then there’s the Apple tablet…

Papal Copyright: Pope On A Rope Hangs Self

December 20, 2009

According to the Catholic News Agency, the Pope has decided to finally go all RIAA on the world and start defending the Papal image. A copyright was filed. I kid not.

[The] Vatican has felt it necessary to declare that “it alone has the right to ensure the respect due to the Successors of Peter, and therefore, to protect the figure and personal identity of the Pope from the unauthorized use of his name and/or the papal coat of arms for ends and activities which have little or nothing to do with the Catholic Church.”

The declaration alludes to attempts to use ecclesiastical or pontifical symbols and logos to “attribute credibility and authority to initiatives” as another reason to establish their “copyright” on the Holy Father’s name, picture and coat of arms.

Is this the end of Pope On A Rope? Pope condoms? Or my personal favorite, the Pope Teddy Bear

I’m pretty sure someone in the Papal legal department doesn’t understand the difference between a copyright and a trademark but I do look forward to Swiss Guard raids on street vendors in the next city the Pope goes to. And a free Pope Snuggie to the person who can email me the first Papal Take-Down notice for unauthorized use of image on their website.

Solid State Drives (SSD)

October 18, 2009

ssd

A few months ago I bought a SSD for my mom’s Dell. Windows XP has an inverse relationship with time; it just keeps getting slower and slower. The only known cure is a fresh install and she was due. I figured if I had to go through the hassle of the fresh install, it was the perfect opportunity to throw in a SSD as her primary drive. She doesn’t need much storage anyway and the time penalty of Windows XP would be offset by the blazing speed of the SSD. An extra 2 GB of RAM also brought her up to the 4GB max (3.5GB) and that 2 plus year old Dell felt usable again. Boot-ups now take less than 20 seconds versus the agonizing 3+ minutes before. She’s happy and it was a worthwhile $400.

Two weeks ago I finally got my own SSD in the form of a Mac Mini upgraded to 4GB of RAM and a 160GB SSD. Sure, the new minis might be right around the corner but probably only a minor CPU speed bump and I needed a box for the office. Something small, capable of running two monitors, and speedy. It’s an astoundingly fast little box. I rarely notice when I’ve exceeded real memory and start paging to disk, applications open instantly, and I never wait on the box. I’m not doing anything video/photography, just the usual office suite, web stuff so relatively slow dual cores, low-end gpu. Even with 12 big powerpoints, a dozen excel workbooks, and 30 or so word docs open, it still chugs along without a hitch.

I keep eyeing the Crucial 256GB SSD on Amazon as a replacement for my 256GB old spinning platters in my 13″ MacBook Pro. I haven’t pulled the trigger yet but I’m on the SSD bandwagon. The speed, slightly lower heat, and absolute silence of the things are a lure too sweet to resist. Even older boxes come alive under the spell of the SSD. As they decline in price and little annoyances like lack of TRIM commands get sorted out, more and more consumers will take the plunge.

I’m in.

Chia Obama: You Can’t Make This Up

July 1, 2009

obama

Comes in two versions. Happy.

and Determined

determined-co

Watch the animated version on the site. Mesmerizing.

Trent Reznor rocks

May 22, 2009

Proving once again he gets the new world and has a soul and a heart…from the NIN store.

Total is now over $542,212.

A Letter from Trent:

This is for something important. Eric De La Cruz is dying and needs a heart transplant. He keeps getting turned down for a transplant list because he’s on Nevada Medicaid, and there are no transplant centers in Nevada. We want to get involved and hopefully so do you, so we’re extending a hand. His sister Veronica (former Anchor and Internet Correspondent for CNN) has started a campaign to save his life.

Eric’s situation shines a bright light on a broken health care system, and his particular set of problems are being addressed on the political front, aiming for reform in addition to the need for immediate financial help to keep him alive TODAY. I think we can help with the latter.

Here’s what we’re offering – three options:

If you have a ticket to a NIN/JA show: if you donate $1,000 to this cause, we’ll invite you to come hang out with us before the NIN/JA show of your choice. You and a guest can watch NIN and Street Sweeper Social Club’s soundchecks, eat dinner backstage with us, take pics / get autographs and watch the show from the side of the stage if you’d like.

If you donate $300, you and a friend can join us for NIN and SSSC’s soundchecks and a handshaking / hug session before doors open at the NIN/JA show of your choice.

If you do NOT have a ticket to a NIN/JA show: if you donate $1,200 to this cause, we’ll invite you to come hang out with us before the NIN/ JA show of your choice and provide 2 tickets (best available). You and a guest can watch soundcheck, eat dinner backstage with us, take pics / get autographs and watch the show from the side of the stage if you’d like.

100% of the money collected from this will go directly to Eric’s fund.

I hope you’ll consider helping out with this.

Sincerely, Trent Reznor

Unleavened Bread

April 8, 2009

matzoh

With the fleeing from Eqypt holiday approaching, I have no time to leaven the bread. These little matzoh bites will need to suffice.

  • iPod near saturation point. According to Piper Jaffray’s annual round-up. No big surprise there. iPhone and applications will be growth driver. Check out Lose it! and iFitness after the big holiday meal.
  • Zappos, the uber-consumer friendly internet shoe bazaar, has an excellent Google Maps mash-up showing sales on the US map. Now if I can only figure out how to make it my iTunes visualizer for the newly released Hartford 77 GD show…
  • If you want to feel like even more of a second-class citizen, go watch the Spotify review on You Tube. Again, not available in the USA.
  • And if anyone can possibly explain to me what Chuck — I can announce three press releases per day every day – Schumer is even talking about with this new ticket reseller bill, I would be very grateful. Is it like a 48 hour waiting period on buying a gun? Ticket brokers must wait 48 hours? Basic economics should tell Chuck this won’t effect the pricing curve but hey, it must be a consumer-friendly bill because the head of Ticketmaster supports it! That alone should be enough to bury this misguided and useless piece of legislation. Noise for its own sake…

“I am very happy to support Sen. Schumer’s thoughtful proposal and leadership on this issue,” said Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff.

  • Q1 2009 had precisely zero albums released that made it to platinum status. And U2′s new album sold a paltry 35,000 units last week in the USA. Strong international sales will help but it looks like a hard climb to get to even 1.5 million US. Halfway there and the little engine is running out of steam.

Douglas Merrill Out At EMI

March 23, 2009

He didn’t even last a year. By all accounts, Douglas is a tech-savvy, smart, and engaging guy. Clearly those things are wrong for EMI. The announcement came today

EMI Music has announced a restructure that’ll see its digital unit merged back into the main company. Former Googler Douglas Merrill is stepping down from his role as president of digital and chief operating officer of EMI’s New Music unit, while senior VP of digital strategy Cory Ondrejka is being promoted to the new post of executive vice president of digital marketing.

Yup. That’s right. The top spot now goes to Cory.

He who co-founded the disastrous, money-sucking, flailing, hyped up virtual place to have sex with a sheep, Linden Labs aka Second Life.

He who thought iTunes’ music store was too complicated. Meanwhile hundreds of millions of people have purchased over 6 billion songs on it.

He who said, ““I neither buy nor hear much new music.”

With Guy Hands stepping out of the spotlight and, it appears, leaving it to Elio to run things, this has got to be one of those moments that a year from now Elio will look back on and wish it went a different way.

I wish Douglas well on his next endeavor.

Columbia Lion Pride

February 20, 2009

gehrigcu

While Harvard has graduated five US presidents, Princeton and Yale each three, Columbia University can only now boast of its first grad to be a US President — Obama is class of 1983. That’s not to say Columbia hasn’t had its share of famous alumna: Jack Kerouac, John Jay, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Warren Buffet have all attended in one form or another.

I went to Columbia University for both undergrad and business school, finishing them both in one shot in four years and saving a boatload in tuition in the process. It’s not the ideal way to experience college, no doubt, but it worked for me. My one and only real regret in that time is that I never went to a school game of any sort. Not one.

Columbia isn’t known for its athletics. Like all Ivy League schools, Columbia has no sports scholarships, which pretty much limits the programs. Throw in that it is the smallest of the Ivys with only 4,000 or so undergrads, and the picture becomes more clear. Columbia even holds the dubiously prestigious rank of #4 on ESPN’s Worst College Football Teams of All Time. From 1983 to 1988, CU’s Lions failed to win a single game racking up a whopping 44 losses in a row.

Yikes.

So it’s with a touch of pride that I discovered yesterday that none other than Lou Gehrig was Columbia College class of 1925.

The Iron Horse. The Greatest First Baseman of all time. A Columbia grad.

It makes me want to truck uptown and actually go to a game

Toys of our Times: The Playmobile Security Checkpoint

January 22, 2009

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While $55 may seem like a lot of money to teach the wee ones to throw away their liquids, remove their shoes, and place their laptop in a tray, the lessons taught them will certainly be priceless.

Don’t forget to read the Amazon comments…

Melvin Lipman

November 2, 2008

From The New York Times, October 27, 2008

LIPMAN–Melvin Daniel.

We announce the passing of Melvin Daniel Lipman on October 25, 2008. Devoted husband of 45 years to Myra Rosenthal, adored father of Nathaniel, Asher, Rebecca, Benjamin, Jacob, Sarah, Rachel, and Deborah and beloved zeyde to Henry, Molly, Megan, Jessica, Charlotte and Jake.

Born August 12, 1928, Mel grew up in New York City and, after graduating from Syracuse University and service in the US Army during the Korean War, became a successful real estate developer in Manhattan. His buildings include 200 Central Park South, 1050 Fifth Avenue and 1020 Park Avenue.

Mel was a strong, gentle, quiet man who put his wife and children before all else. His life was full with family, love, and travel. The service will be held at Sharon Gardens in Valhalla, NY, today at 10:30 am. The family requests donations be made in his memory to American Friends of Magen David Adom.

Mike Bloomberg For Mayor – Again

October 3, 2008

I usually avoid political talk. It just causes fights with friends and family and the odds of actually convincing someone else to change their position is virtually nil. That means it’s an arguement purely to vent. I’m breaking that rule.

I’ve been a fan of Mayor Mike since he ran for his first term. While New York City is better positioned than most cities for the impending financial doom, I know there will be lots of pain next year as Wall Street sheds tens of thousands of jobs, real estate pauses, and tax rolls crater.

The only guy I want running this city is Mike Bloomberg. Sure, I wish he ran for President. I really do. But barring Mike as Governor, NYC needs him at the helm.

Most politicians cut taxes when there are surpluses. It helps ingratiate them with the populace. Bloomberg? He gave a real estate tax rebate which is easy to repeal but more importantly, he paid down NYC debt — even as the city council wanted more tax cuts — knowing that good times always end and it’s better to reduce the debt load when you can.

There are no donations to the Bloomberg campaign but I put my money where my mouth is: yesterday I bought NYC municipal bonds.

A quick review of the record:

May 5, 2006, Gothamist

Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg presented a $52.7 billion budget for 2007 with measured spending, in spite of a $3.4 billion surplus. He said the city had to anticipate slowdowns in real estate and from Wall Street, plus rising gas prices, with budget deficits in 2006, 2009 and 2010 possible

April 27, 2007, NY Times:

But as the mayor warned that the city’s good fortunes would not last, grumbling could already be heard among some City Council members and union leaders who said that he should dip into that surplus to finance other initiatives and increase pay for police officers.

October 31, 2007,  Bloomberg News:

Bloomberg’s decision to set aside some of the surplus to prepay city debt and create a trust to fund future retiree health expenses, combined with the financial industry’s strong first half, may cushion the blow for this year, said Rosen at the New York Fed.

May 1, 2008, Reuters:

For months, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been warning that the U.S. housing-led economic downturn will hurt New York City. On Monday, the independent mayor warned corporate tax payments could “fall off a cliff.”

Bloomberg plans to prepay debt with the windfall, getting a jump on slicing next year’s deficit, the source added.

Paul Newman

September 27, 2008

“I’d like to be remembered as a guy who tried — tried to be part of his times, tried to help people communicate with one another, tried to find some decency in his own life, tried to extend himself as a human being. Someone who isn’t complacent, who doesn’t cop out.”

Numbers & DNA

September 9, 2008

During my time as a Columbia undergrad, I had a probability professor who tried with all his might to get me to go for a PhD. I didn’t fall for it and opted for the MBA but I pretty much screwed up his teaching notes almost every class.

Example: he would give us the classic birthday problem and, because there were only 11 students, he would ask everyone to write down their own birthday plus another day of the year to up the odds. While he ran through the problem as if there were 22 students who had written down 22 birthdays, I wasn’t paying attention but instead calculating the probability correcting for the factor that no student would write down their own birthday twice. He changed his notes.

I was very annoying. I know.

So it’s no surprise that this Freakonomics article piqued my interest. It’s about the FBI DNA database. It quotes a LA Times article and goes on to explain the math:

State crime lab analyst Kathryn Troyer was running tests on Arizona’s DNA database when she stumbled across two felons with remarkably similar genetic profiles.

The men matched at 9 of the 13 locations on chromosomes, or loci, commonly used to distinguish people.

The [Federal Bureau of Investigation] estimated the odds of unrelated people sharing those genetic markers to be as remote as 1 in 113 billion. But the mug shots of the two felons suggested that they were not related: One was black, the other white.

In the years after her 2001 discovery, Troyer found dozens of similar matches — each seeming to defy impossible odds.

As Benjamin Disraeli then Mark Twain said, ““There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” But of course, understanding the math behind the statistic is where the truth can be found. In the last throes of a close Presidential election, with new polls out each week, it’s kind of scary how many people just seem to accept numbers given to them as gospel. Especially jurors.

I do wonder sometimes if I would have enjoyed the Columbia statistics PhD program. I know there aren’t too many new candidates a year and the department was always on the hunt for natural aptitude. But I think he confused my smart alecky problem corrections for passion.

It’s not that I dislike math. I wouldn’t have gone for the Astronomy minor with all that advanced physics and math if I did. Nor Business School for that matter. I really like math. My mom was a math teacher. It’s in my DNA. And she figured – incorrectly – that with 8 kids she would end up with at least one doctor in the family. And there’s a probability question in there somewhere…

Brett

August 8, 2008

Sure, the Mets are two games back, in the hunt and getting ready to face their nemesis, Atlanta, in a few weeks but all the sports talk in NYC has been the legendary Brett Favre coming to the Jets.

It’s not easy being a Mets/Jets fan. The Yankees/Giants fans — and those pairs do seem to go together — have enjoyed many more championships, endured far fewer heartbreaks.

I’m excited to watch Brett. It should make it interesting. But that’s a bit aways off. It’s still Mets, still Shea, still baseball season.

Pet Peeves: Bad Math

July 31, 2008

Sometimes the simplest of mistakes can drive us crazy; those pet peeves like “their” for “they’re” or “to” for “too” or my personal nails-on-a-chalkboard: “loose” for “lose”

Math slip-ups are a personal peeve. Here’s an example from the usually excellent hitsdailydouble where Ted Volk is discussing sales of Coldplay’s newest album, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends

IGen by Ted Volk (7/9/08)

1.2 million!! An incredible sales number for Coldplay!  Since the band’s last CD X&Y came out, the marketplace has tumbled 20%. So, if we add that 20%, the new number surges to a near -crazy 1.4m!

The problem is that you can’t add 20% to 1.2m (which actually equals 1.44m but rounding is fine) to account for a 20% drop.

A very simple example:

A market drops from 100 units by 50%. New market size is 50 units.

Now that market increases 50%

50% of 50 units is 25 units so the new market is 75 units, not 100.

A drop of a given percentage will always be more than an increase of the same percentage after the drop. It’s because the drop occurs from a larger base. The increase happens off the shrunken base.

What Ted meant to say is that given the recorded music industry’s drop of 20% in unit sales, the Coldplay album’s sales of 1.2 million when adjusted for that drop would be 1.5 million.

Ted should have said he added 25% to the 1.2 million album sales to account for the 20% drop in total market sales.

Ted’s point remains the same. That as impressive as Coldplay’s sales of 1.2 million units is, with the state of the industry, it looks even more impressive. Unfortunately, he punted the math. The correct math makes Ted’s point even stronger. After all, 1.5 million units is larger than 1.4 million.


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